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Technology Use for Stalkers on the Rise

January 28, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. - January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and in Virginia the issue is getting attention in the General Assembly with two bills that, in part, aim to give better protections to victims. Gena Boyle is with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She says there has been a rise in stalkers using technology to harass their victims.

"They do it with constant texting, also through Facebook and other online social networks. And there has been a pretty big rise in GPS and other electronic tracking devices, which we've seen used on cars and through phones."

The legislation being considered by the General Assembly, SB 1222 and HB 2422, would remove the requirement that a criminal warrant be issued for stalking in order for a victim to be eligible for a stalking protective order. Stalkers would also face tougher sentences for violating a stalking protective order.

Susan Painter, program coordinator with the Abermarle Victim-Witness Program, says victims are usually stalked by someone they know, but about 10 percent are stalked by strangers. The charge can sometimes be difficult to prove, so if it's happening online or by some other means, she says the victim should document it.

"Keep any letters or e-mails, perhaps print off the Facebook pages. We suggest that people keep a notebook handy, so if they see the suspect driving by their house, they can write down the date and time it's occurring."

Boyle advises anyone being stalked not to contact the stalker directly, and they should make sure that friends, co-workers and neighbors know about the situation. The victim also should use the statewide hotline number to connect to local resources and devise a safety plan, 1-800-838-8238. Anyone in immediate danger should call the police, she adds.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA